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About A Week: How To Kill A City

Peter Hinchliffe writes about a huge Yorkshire shopping mall called Meadowhall. A chap he knows calls in Meadowhell.

The best time to be in our town’s old Shambles Lane was around 5.45 pm of a Saturday.

That was bargain time. The time when most shoppers had already caught the bus home.

The stragglers, the bargain hunters, could then stroll up and down the cobbled lane during the last half-hour of that day’s trading, inspecting the glass-canopied stalls, listening to the increasingly urgent offers of the stallholders.

Those were the days before bulk refrigeration.

Stallholders cut their prices dramatically as closing time neared, desperate to get rid of fruit, fish. meat, rather than risk keeping it over the weekend.

Canny shoppers would go home well-content, knowing they had got a feast for next to nothing.

On one side of Huddersfield’s Shambles Lane was the Market Hall, a splendid Victorian building, complete with clock tower, much missed by all those who knew it.

Even when I was a lad, sulky and rebellious at being dragged along by my mother on a shopping expedition, I enjoyed time spent in the Market Hall.

There was a comic stall near the main doors, where I browsed for minutes on end while my mother went in pursuit of spuds, carrots and shin beef. Oh, and a piece of material.

The material would end up as a cushion cover, or a curtain for the spare bedroom. My mother was as happy as a lottery winner if she found a “good’’ piece of material.

Times change. Towns change - and not necessarily for the better.

In the greatest act of civic vandalism in Huddersfield’s history, the Market Hall was pulled down to make way for concrete barracks-block shops.

Shambles Lane became a gloomy tunnel, a place to hurry through. At night, passing drunks use its doorways as toilets.

Occasionally my wife and I drive for 30 minutes down the motorway to Meadowhall, one of the biggest shopping malls in Britain. There are more than 200 shops, parking for 12,000 cars…

It’s shops and walkways are crowded from early morning to 10 pm with folk whose determined expressions suggest that shopping is the most important thing in their lives.

A chap I know calls it Meadowhell.

Two million bricks were used in building Meadowhall, 11,000 tonnes of steel, acres of glass… But architecturally it’s no more pleasing than a 1930s council house. It’s a ticky-tacky supermarket grown too big for its boots.

If you care nothing for architecture, if you are unmoved by the street scenes in England’s marvellously varied towns and cities, then Meadowhall may be your kind of place.

Enter its walls and you could be in Seattle, Sydney, Singapore.

Though Meadowhall is in Sheffield. it’s a sprawling Toytown on a site which once gave Yorkshire folk cause for real pride.

Where teenagers now buy the latest in-brand of jeans or trainers, fine steel was once made at Hadfields. In 1882, Sir Robert Hadfield first fashioned manganese steel, which hardens with wear and is used for railway line points, excavator shovel teeth, coal cutters, and such like.

The monster machines which gouged the ground to prepare the way for the Meadowhall Toytown were probably toughened to their task with manganese steel.

One of the most sinister results of Meadowhall is the blighting effect it has had on the city centre of Sheffield, and on the centres of other towns in the immediate area.

By giving the go-ahead to this huge shopping mall the planners ripped the heart out of a once-proud city.

That heart is now buried beneath two million bricks beside the M1 motorway.


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